Crimea suffers as Russians avoid region during war

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The Black Sea’s premier holiday destination, Crimea, is buzzing again this summer.

But not with tourists.

Russian military jets and helicopters fly over the hot sandy beaches of Crimea as they take part in the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, stifle tourismthe bread and butter of the region.

Sergei Romashkin, chief executive of Russian tour operator Dolphin, said hotel bookings in Kremlin-controlled Crimea this summer were down 40% from a year ago.

Other tourism industry executives have said demand could fall by 50% as the war in Ukraine continues with no end in sight.

The beaches of Feodosia in eastern Crimea were largely devoid of tourists in May, while many storefronts that would normally serve Russian customers were vacant, according to a local blogger who is also an RFE/RL contributor.

Russia closed the skies over Crimea to civil aviation when it invaded Ukraine on February 24 in expectation of a quick victory.

Premises for rent in Feodosia.

However, the Russian forces faced fierce resistance, losing thousands of men and hundreds of pieces of equipment.

Now, three months later, Russia is mired in trench warfare in the Donbass with Ukraine vowing to keep fighting, forcing the Kremlin to extend a ban on civil aviation over Crimea.

The Kremlin forcibly annexed Crimea, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based, in 2014 following the ousting of Moscow-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

For a significant number of Crimeans, the success of the holiday season is a guarantee that we will experience the coming winter.”

Crimea’s main airport in Simferopol can accommodate up to 7 million people a year. Russian tourists will now have to arrive by train, bus or car across the Crimean Bridge.

But the Russian railway system cannot transport more than 2.5 million people to Crimea every year, Kommersant reported.

The train is an unattractive option for many Russians living in the Urals and further east, as the journey can take days.

Some of those who can travel by rail or road worry about the impact of the war on overland travel, said Russian blogger Alyona Bardovskaya, who has lived in Crimea since 2014.

“People are afraid that if they drive across the bridge, the bridge will be destroyed,” she said.

An empty promenade in Sudak.

An empty promenade in Sudak.

The Kremlin ordered the construction of the 19 kilometer long road bridge following its annexation of the peninsula to ensure a route avoiding mainland Ukraine.

Bardovskaya said other tourists are holding back from vacationing in Crimea due to a lack of money and clarity in the job market.

Experts predict that Russia’s economy could contract by up to 15% this year and unemployment could rise after the United States and its allies imposed crippling financial and technological sanctions on the country for its invasion.

With the price of goods and services in Russia up nearly 18% from last year, hotels in Crimea are limited in how much they can lower prices to attract customers.

The sharp decline in tourism will be devastating for many local residents, who earn much of their annual income during the summer months, working as guides, waiters, store clerks and maids.

“For a significant number of Crimeans, the success of the holiday season is a guarantee that we will experience the coming winter. [Now]there are great concerns in this sense,” said the Crimean blogger and RFE/RL contributor wrote.

With report by Kommersant.
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